By Steve Guntli
Keeko and Maggie May bark excitedly at the sound of a knock on the door, jumping and scratching at the glass door until Eleni Naslund lets them out.
“They tend to get a little excited,” Naslund said. “They’re super friendly.”
The dogs came to Naslund as rescues, and were soon adopted into the family. Maggie, a sturdy blond Lhasa apso, was originally the pet of a family with a rambunctious toddler who was keeping her on edge. Keeko, a sweet-natured shih tzu, came from a puppy mill. The dogs are just two of thousands that Naslund has helped over nearly two decades.
Naslund is the founder of Furbaby Rescue, a Blaine-based rescue service that helps find homes for abandoned dogs. Naslund has been working with the dogs for 18 years, and estimates she’s helped between 3,000 and 4,000 animals during that time.
“I got a little shih tzu-bichon frise mixed puppy from a breeder in Alberta,” she said. “I didn’t know the first thing about these breeds, since I’d always had large dogs. I did some research, and I found out there were dogs like this all over that needed help.”
The dogs come to Naslund from shelters, owners, puppy mills and backyard breeders. Some have endured abuse or neglect, and others are suffering from serious diseases. Occasionally, owners will bring a dog to the vet believing it needs to be put down, but the vet disagrees and sends the dog to Naslund.
Most of the dogs Naslund takes in are from Washington, but occasionally some come from B.C.
“They’ve gotten more rescues up there recently,” she said. “They used to call on me a lot, because no one up there specialized in shih tzus and Lhasas. But there are enough here in our backyard that need help.”
On average, Naslund will keep one to three foster dogs in her home at a time.
“I used to keep a lot more, but after 18 years, it’s just easier to keep a few at a time,” she said.
Furbaby has eight volunteer foster homes between Blaine and Olympia. The foster families spend time getting to know each dog in order to better match them with a family.
“Not every dog is suited for every home,” Naslund said. “It’s important to learn what kind of dog it is. Can it be around small children? Is it housetrained? Will it try to eat the cat? We get an idea of the kind of dog it is, then we put it up for adoption and try to match the dog to the right person.”
Naslund asks all potential adopters for references, preferably from a vet, groomer or other pet-care professional. Qualified adopters tend to come back to Furbaby more than once. Just last week, a tiny shih tzu named Spark Plug found a home with a woman who has adopted four dogs from Furbaby over the past 14 years.
Every time a dog comes to Naslund, she takes it to a groomer and a vet. She charges an adoption fee of between $150 and $450 to help pay for vet bills, but says she doesn’t make much money from the rescues. What makes it worthwhile for her, she says, is seeing a supposedly unwanted dog find a loving home.
“We’ve had some wonderful adopters over the years,” she said. “I had a shih tzu that we took in to get neutered and found out he had prostate cancer. I told the adopter that he probably wouldn’t have a lot of time, but she took him anyway. He only did make it another eight months, but for that time he was loved and cared for.”